Playing on faith
While several vocalists are shying away from releasing full-length albums, choosing instead to focus on extended-play projects, there are those musicians who believe there still is a viable market for instrumental albums.
International acts, including guitarist Carlos Santana and saxophonist Kenny G, have carved illustrious solo careers from their instrumental recordings. Others, including Arturo Tappin (who performs at this year's Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival) and hornsmen Roland Alphonso and Tommy McCook have also made stellar contributions.
Guitarist Dwight Pinkney, who received national honours last October, has done several instrumental albums, among them Jamaican Memories By The Score. Saxophonist Tony Greene also has a catalogue of instrumental albums, among the more recent being Tribute To The Duke, honouring late producer Arthur Reid of Treasure Isle fame.
Now, legendary saxophonist Dean Fraser tells The Sunday Gleaner that while recording and releasing an instrumental album may not be a money-making venture right away, sooner or later it will show noticeable financial returns.
centred around earnings
"You are taking a risk with instrumental albums if you are centred around earnings. There are not a lot of reggae instrumentalists around, so I make sure to make an album available so people can hear it," Fraser said.
He added that there is an avenue for instrumentalists to tour and showcase their talent. Fraser, who is an integral part of the band that tours with singer Tarrus Riley, says he incorporates some of his own material in Riley's set.
"I have done Dean Fraser shows abroad and I also have a new project coming up, and there are plans to do a tour from that. I usually take the first half-hour of Tarrus' set for myself. We have to get behind our music and get it known and popular," Fraser stated.
This sentiment was echoed by lead guitarist Robert 'Dubwise' Browne, whose instrumental album Electrifying Grooves of Diversion was released in 2010.
"There is still a demand for this type of album in certain niches. Statistically, Jamaicans tend to lean towards pop culture and dancehall, but there is still a small sector that appreciates instrumental music," Dubwise told The Sunday Gleaner.
Although he released instrumental albums previously, Browne conceded that they did not lead to tours. He attributed this to not having a management structure around him and also his hectic schedule as a member of Shaggy's band. However, with a new album in the works, Browne says he plans to use this new opportunity to hit the road.
create a catalogue
"Personally, I do these albums to create a catalogue in hopes of it becoming economically viable. Artistes that have inspired me and influenced me when I was a teenager to do this still have careers today. Instrumental albums are viable for some people. Jamaicans just need to find a way to make it work for us," he stated.
With the Valentine season fast approaching, Browne plans to release an album on which he covers popular Jamaican artistes' material. Titled Groovy Love Thing, it will feature instrumental versions of Wayne Wonder's No Letting Go and Beres Hammond's Groovy Little Thing, among others.
Drummer Kirk 'Kirkledove' Bennett, who is also in the process of releasing his new project, Cold Johnny (featuring Jesse Royal), told The Sunday Gleaner that instrumental projects are now becoming increasingly trendy in Jamaica. He also confirmed that while releasing instrumental albums might not be financially beneficial at first, it does open up new markets.
live music longevity
"The more work you put out, the more recommendations you get, and it also builds your catalogue. There is nothing in the world that can beat live music. I'm not downplaying the role of computers, but live music certainly has more longevity. Once in a while I'll do solo shows, but this year, I'm stepping out different. I'm not saying that I won't be playing in a band as usual, but I'd really like to do more solo work," Bennett said.
Producer Shane Brown, who has worked with Fraser, Bennett and Browne, told The Sunday Gleaner that while there is a big demand for instrumental albums worldwide, it has declined.
"Back in the days when a producer released a rhythm, he would also release the instrumental version to it. These albums give life to a part of our music that has been dormant for some time. Dean, for example, gets lots of bookings as a solo act. These albums open up our genre to different ears," Brown said.
However, he pointed out that "not every musician is an instrumentalist. Some musicians have no desire to do so. But it would be great to see more saxophonists. We need more people like Dean Fraser."